My experience with fanny packs goes back the last 22 years. I probably use a fanny pack 70 percent of the time that I carry in public. I believe the advantages can outweigh the disadvantages for many people. The controversy about using fanny packs for concealed carry has been ongoing for many years now, and we can find both positive and negative arguments for using a fanny pack.
Some of the positive reasons include: fanny packs are more comfortable, your handgun is more accessible in a fanny pack, you can wear a fanny pack with just about any casual clothing, and fanny packs protect your handgun from the elements.
Some of the negative reasons include: fanny packs cannot be used safely on a range alongside other students, removing your handgun is too complicated, handgun removal requires both of your hands, removing your handgun is too slow, and fanny packs are too obvious.
Positive Aspects of Fanny Pack Use
No doubt about it, fanny packs are more comfortable than any waist, shoulder, or ankle holster, hands down. No holster is digging in your abdomen when seated, no paranoia about shirts hiking up, no sitting with your back away from the seat because your holster would bulge through your clothing. Like any concealed carry enthusiast, I own dozens of holsters of various types that I have accumulated over the years. None of them are as comfortable as my fanny pack.
However, if you should start loading up your fanny pack with extra items, such as change, keys, wallet, cell phone, pocket knife, pepper spray, or extra magazines, that pack can get heavy. I’m a big guy, so that is not much of a problem for me, but you may want to restrain yourself from cluttering your pack.
You cannot beat the accessibility of a fanny pack. It sits there in plain sight on your waist, patiently waiting for the day you have to open it and access your handgun. Just pull open the cover, and draw. No shirts to move up and no leaning forward to draw while seated. I can draw my handgun from my fanny pack very discreetly when seated, with no shoulder motion. I use a right-handed pack, so my fanny pack sits on the front of my left hip, or alternatively, on the front of my right hip. The left side carry is similar to a cross draw holster, the right side carry, similar to a right side belt holster.
I have worn fanny packs with sweat shirts and jeans, t-shirts and shorts, and swimming trunks. Casual wear and fanny packs work well, formal wear and fannies do not. For those of you with blue collar jobs or outside jobs, fanny packs fit right in. If I wear a suit or formal slacks and a sport coat, I use a shoulder holster or a belt holster, preferring an inside the waistband holster (IWB) to avoid the handgun “printing” through the fabric.
Fanny packs protect your handgun from rain, snow, dust, and mud. The compartment that holds your handgun is sealed against the environment. When I carry my handgun in my fanny pack, the dust, lint and crud is not there. When I wear my inside the waistband holster, the crud seems to gravitate to it after a few days of wear. This is not a big concern if you clean your handgun as often as you should, but it is nice to know that fanny packs keep handguns clean. I can wear my fanny pack on the outside of a rain suit if I have to, and it will stay dry for quite some time, and I can wear it while skiing for the same reason.
But before you run out and buy a fanny pack, let’s look at the cons.
Using your fanny pack on a range alongside other students is a reasonable concern. In my range classes, I do not allow beginner and intermediate students to use fanny packs. Among other considerations, I cannot see their trigger fingers while they draw. Safety is paramount, as it should always be. If I allow advanced students to use fanny packs, I instruct them to turn their body and the fanny pack toward the target, so that they are not pointing the muzzle at another student while removing or replacing handguns in fanny packs. This has satisfied safety concerns while allowing the advanced students to use fanny packs.
The complications of removing a handgun from a fanny pack are no worse than many other mechanics of using a handgun. After instruction from a competent instructor and some practice, the process can become fluid and natural. Now that does not mean it feels natural the first time you try it! Practice does that.
Removal of your handgun does not require you to use both hands. A competent instructor can show you how to remove your handgun with one hand. The process is slower than two hands, because you have to perform two tasks in succession, instead of two tasks simultaneously. Practice after competent instruction can minimize the delay caused by using one hand.
I rarely wear my black pack. It just seems to appear too much like something a cop would wear off duty.
All else being equal, removing a handgun from a fanny pack is slower than drawing from a belt holster and about as fast as drawing from a shoulder holster. Outer garments that cover a belt holster can narrow the difference in speed. I do not consider the difference in speed to be so great that I do not use a fanny pack, just as I use shoulder holsters in spite of the slower presentation. Many training facilities obsess with the speed of presenting your handgun to the exclusion of other important considerations. I would not reject the use of a fanny pack simply because drawing the handgun may be slightly slower than other concealed carry holster designs.
Are fanny packs too obvious? I would have to qualify my answer to that by asking, “Where?” If I am strolling down a street in an inner city ghetto, past street gang members, the answer is probably yes. If I am carrying in suburban America, the answer is probably no. Percentage wise, the number of people in our society who are savvy to concealed carry is quite small. Many unarmed people carry fanny packs for convenience, especially when engaged in sports and exercise activities. So the short answer to whether or not fanny packs are too obvious is, “It depends.”
Several years ago, my family and I visited an amusement park. Despite a company policy that did not allow handguns in the park, I presented myself for the entrance search with my fanny pack in plain view. If I could help it, I was not about to go unarmed in a public place with thousands of people due to a company policy. The employee asked to see inside the fanny pack, so I opened the zippers to the change pocket and to the wallet/cell phone compartment. He did not ask the magic question, and I did not tell, and I was on my way. Either he didn’t care, or didn’t know to ask. (I should note that my concealed carry in the park was not in violation of state law. If my possession of my handgun had come to the attention of the park later, I could have been ordered to leave.)
Colors are an important consideration with fanny packs. Some packs are only offered in black, others are offered in several colors. Over the years, I have purchased a number of colors, and I switch packs to suit the clothing I am wearing. Bright colors go great with summer clothing, and help your pack to blend in. Blue is a generic, conforming color, and it works well with jeans. I rarely wear my black pack. It just seems to appear too much like something a cop would wear off duty. You know, macho and all that.
Having reviewed the pros and cons, are fanny packs right for you? The only way to be sure if a fanny pack will work for you is to try one for yourself. The good news is that you can buy good quality fanny packs for as little as fifteen to thirty dollars! If you don’t like the pack, you’re not out a bundle of money. KG Products of Oregon makes a reasonably priced pack. I have used their fanny packs for 20 years now, and can state that the packs hold up to continuous use. The KG fanny pack is a design with a Velcro-type hook and loop opening for the handgun, secured by a single snap on the corner. Other designs use zippers with attached drawstrings to open the handgun compartment. My impression of these designs is that the draw strings are slower and more awkward to operate than the simpler hook and loop designs, but I have not practiced with the draw string designs very much.
The most important fact you need to know about using a fanny pack is that you really should have someone who is trained and experienced show you how to use it effectively and properly.
Let’s not forget the cool factor. Currently, it is not fashionable to wear fanny packs unless you are exercising. When I started wearing fanny packs back in the 1980s, it was more fashionable. Now, in my 50s, I don’t care if it is fashionable. But don’t you despair, the fickle turns of fashion fate might bring fanny packs back to coolness!
Consider buying a second fanny pack for use as a practice pack. This will prevent wearing out the fasteners or zippers that close the handgun compartment on the pack that you will stake your life on. There’s nothing like a handgun falling out of your pack in a public place to ruin your day!
The most important fact you need to know about using a fanny pack is that you really should have someone who is trained and experienced show you how to use it effectively and properly. If you try to teach yourself, you may find under the stress of a life-threatening confrontation that you cannot open the pack quickly and retrieve your handgun smoothly. Once you have adequate training, use your pack in your dry-fire practice. This will polish your skills and build the confidence that you can retrieve your handgun under all conditions.
[ Chris Ewens owns BullsEye Tactical Firearms Training, near Redding in northern California. Retired with honors from law enforcement, he was part of a SWAT team for more than ten years, instructing the team for four years. BullsEye training includes clearing a shoot house, shoot/no-shoot/ moving targets, and force-on-force. Visit www.GunInstructor.com for more information. ]
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